Recognizing Real Life

 

Sunday School Lesson for September 1, 2002

 

John 1:1-18

 

Main Sources for the Study of John’s Gospel

 

F. F. Bruce. The Gospel and the Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983.

 

D. A. Carson. The Gospel According to John. Leicester: Apollos, 1991.

 

William Hendriksen.  The Gospel of John.  Grand Rapids: Baker, 1954.

 

Andreas Kostenberger. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and

     Theological Perspective. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999.

 

R. C. H. Lenski. The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1943.

 

A.W. Pink.  Exposition of the Gospel of John.  Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1945.

 

Herman Ridderbos. The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids:

     Eerdmans, 1997.

 

B. F. Westcott. The Gospel According to St. John. London: James Clarke and Co. 1958.

 

 

The Word and God (1:1-5)

 

Verses 1-2

 The Gospel of John begins with an announcement concerning the “Word.”   As we shall see, this special designation employed by the Apostle is synonymous with the second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ.  This term (logos) serves to reveal specific truths concerning the nature and significance of His person and ministry, most notably, that He is the full and final revelation of God to men.  That is, as words reveal the mind and will of the one speaking, Christ, as the divine “Word,” fully reveals to men the will, mind, purposes, and even the very presence of God.  In addition, we note that in the Old Testament words are seen as vehicles of power, authority, judgment, healing, and even destruction (Ps. 33:6; Is. 7:3; 38:4 for instance). For the ancient Hebrews, Yahweh’s Word indicated “God in action, especially in creation, revelation and deliverance” [Bruce, 29].  Against this Old Testament background, then, John describes Jesus as the One who is the embodiment of the divine presence.  In these two verses the “Word” is depicted as having three characteristics:

 

 

John 8:58 Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am."

 

Col 1:17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

 

 

·        Two: The Word has enjoyed eternal fellowship with the Father (v.1b)-  John declares that “the Word was with God” meaning that Christ experienced the “closest possible fellowship with the Father, and that He took supreme delight in this communion” (Hendriksen, 70).   The Greek phrase that John used here can literally be translated “face-to-face with God.” Thus, Christ had perfect fellowship with His Father in eternity past.  Note the following:

 

John 1:2 He was in the beginning with God.

 

John 17:5 "And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.”

 

John 17:24 "Father, I desire that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, in order that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me; for Thou didst love Me before the foundation of the world.”

 

 

·        Three: The Word was fully divine (v. 1c)- John states emphatically, “the Word was God” (more literally, “God was the Word”).  In other words, Christ has always been and will always be divine.  Thus, He was fully divine at His birth (He did not become the Son of God), and He was fully divine at His death and resurrection (He did not cease being the Son of God).  Note how this is emphatically stated elsewhere:

 

Phil 2:6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,

 

Col 1:15 And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.

 

Col 2:9 For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form,

 

 

Verse 3

The deity of the Word is again expressed in this verse with the declaration that, “Through Him all things were made.”  That is, Christ was the divine Agent of creation. He is responsible for the existence of the creation and for its preservation until now.  Note that the Apostle repeats this truth from the negative side with the phrase, “without him nothing was made that has been made.”  This fact confirms for John’s audience that Christ was not a creature.  He was and is the Creator who, according to Hebrews, “upholds all things by the word of His power” (1:3).  Note once again the clear testimony of Scripture concerning Christ’s deity and creative power:

 

Col 1:15-19 And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. {16} For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created by Him and for Him. {17} And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. {18} He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything. {19} For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him,

 

Heb 1:1-3 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, {2} in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. {3} And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high;

 

Verses 4,5

Finally, John asserts the full divinity of the Word with yet another symbol or metaphor.  Here, he refers to Christ as the “light of men.”   This statement needs to be understood with 1 John 1:5 in view.  There we read that “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”  As A. W. Pink notes, “The conclusion, then, is irresistible, and the proof complete and final, that the Lord Jesus is none other than God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity” [25].  In addition, John declares that Christ, the light, “shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”  In other words, the moral and spiritual darkness in which men reside (and which resides in their hearts) never can apprehend or accept the light of Christ.  By nature all human beings “love darkness because their deeds are evil (3:19), and when the light does put in an appearance, they hate it, because they do not want their deeds to be exposed” [Carson, 120-21]. Thus, “nothing short of a miracle of saving grace can ever bring one out of darkness into God’s marvelous light” [Pink, 26]. 

 

 

 

A Witness Sent From God  (1:6-8)

 

Having established the eternality of the Word, John now explains the work and ministry of John the Baptist who paved the way for the public manifestation of the Messiah.  The man, “John” was “sent from God” in the same way that other key servants (namely, Moses, Ex. 3:10-15, and the prophets, Is. 6:8) were raised up and commissioned by the Lord [Carson, 120]. The specific mission of John was to serve as a “witness to testify concerning that light.”  That is, John was to set the stage—by means of his preaching ministry—for the appearance of the One who was “the light.”  By stressing that the Baptist himself “was not the light,” John the Apostle “may have had in mind a group of people, surviving at the time when this Gospel was written, who looked back to John [the Baptist] as their founder and venerated him as the one through whom God had made his final revelation to mankind, the last and greatest of the prophets” [Bruce, 38].

 

 

The Word in the World (1:9-13)

 

Verse 9

The “light,” which John the Baptist so passionately introduced in his preaching ministry, was indeed the “true light.” Jesus, then, is God’s supreme self-disclosure to man. His appearance in the “world” brought “light to every man.”  This means that the light of Jesus Christ has invaded the “world” in its rebellion and spiritual darkness. This true light “shines on every man, and divides the race: those who hate the light respond as the world does (1:10): they flee lest their deeds should be exposed by this light (3:19-21). But some receive this revelation (1:12-13), and thereby testify that their deeds have been done through God (3:21)” [Carson, 124]. 

 

Verses 10-11

Here John states that, though the entire cosmos was made “through” Jesus, the eternal Word and Agent of creation, “the world did not recognize him” at the time he entered it in space and time   Westcott understands this to mean that the world in general “failed to recognize Him who was doubly shown as its Creator and Preserver” [8].  Verse 11 adds that Christ’s very “own” people, the Jews themselves, “did not receive him” or embrace Him as the Messiah and Lord. 

 

Verses 12-13

However, not everyone rejected the Word.  Many both “received him” and “believed in his name”—statements that are apparently parallel in meaning. In other words, to “receive” Him is equivalent to believing in His “name” for salvation.   F. F. Bruce puts it this way:

 

To enter God’s family one must receive his Word—in other terms, one must believe in his name. The ‘name’ is much more than the designation by which a person is known; it means the real character or sometimes, as here, the person himself. To receive him who is the Word of God, then, means to place one’s faith in him, to yield one’s allegiance to him and thus, in the most practical manner, to acknowledge his claims [38].

 

Those who exercise such faith in the Word are given the “right” or authority to “become children of God.” Such persons, then, enjoy the very same privileges known by the covenant nation of the Old Testament. Yahweh Himself becomes their Father and confirms this by sending His very Spirit into their hearts, “crying, Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:6). In verse 13, however, we are told that entrance into the kingdom of God is, indeed, a mighty work of God Himself.  John establishes this point from a negative perspective. Those who have believed in Christ are “born of God.” This spiritual birth is radically different than physical birth. While physical birth has to do with “human decision” and “a husband’s will,” the new birth of salvation is by grace through faith in Christ. The point is that membership in the kingdom of God is not a matter of physical or “natural descent.” It is an act of God. Therefore, it is “spiritually irrelevant to be descended from Abraham in the natural order if one is not a child of Abraham in the only sense that matters before God—by reproducing Abraham’s faith” [Bruce, 38-9].

 

 

A Witness About the Word (1:14-18)

 

Verses 14,17

Having asserted the full divinity of Christ, the Word of God, John now declares with equal certainty the reality of His incarnation.  Note that he again employs the term “Word” (logos) for the second Person of the Trinity.  As stated earlier, this specialized term has significance in that it highlights Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God.  As we have observed, a “word” is a medium of manifestation, a means of communication, and a method of revelation.  In this regard, Christ has manifested the invisible God, communicated the love of God, and revealed the character and nature of God [Pink, 21].   In addition, the use of this term by the Apostle serves to answer the challenges of three groups of men who doubted the divinity of Jesus.  The Jews held that only the Law was eternal and was God’s instrument in creation.  The Gnostics maintained that God would never assume a sinful human body, therefore, denying His deity.  Finally, the followers of John the Baptist had apparently claimed that Jesus was not the light which had come down from heaven (see John 1:8).   Yet, John again boldly declares that this divine “Word” was not only God, but was also fully man.  In this verse we observe three truths concerning the God-Man, Jesus Christ:

 

·        One: The Word entered human history- John writes that He “became flesh.”   That is, the eternal logos invaded human history at a specific point in time and space.  Furthermore, He came to a particular race and nation, having assumed human “flesh” and blood.   Note the scriptural testimony:

 

Luke 1:31 "And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.”

 

Luke 2:12 "And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger."

 

Rom 8:3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,

 

Phil 2:8-11 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. {9} Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, {10} that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, {11} and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

 

·        Two: The Word lived among men- John states that the eternal Word “lived for awhile among us,” or more literally, tabernacled or pitched His tent with us.  Thus, Christ lived as a real man and experienced all the vagaries of human life.

 

 

·        Three: The Word revealed the character of God- According to the Apostle’s testimony, he and other disciples actually beheld his glory,” the very same glory once displayed in the Temple which indicated God’s presence.  This means that the “One and Only who came from the Father” (a phrase indicating His eternal Trinitarian Sonship) uniquely revealed to men the nature of God, especially His “grace and truth.”   Note that this point is repeated in verse 17, where the “law,” mediated through “Moses,” is contrasted with the Gospel, or “grace and truth,” which are realized through Jesus Christ.”   As Hendriksen comments, there was

 

nothing wrong with the law, moral and ceremonial.  It had been given by God through Moses.  It was preparatory in character.  It revealed man’s lost condition and it also foreshadowed his deliverance.  But there were two things which the law as such did not supply: grace so that transgressors could be pardoned and helped in time of need, and truth, i.e., the reality to which all the types pointed.  Christ by His atoning work furnished both [89].

 

 

Verse 18

 While it is true that “no one has ever seen God,” Christ has “made him known” or interpreted Him.  Christ’s authority to be the sole interpreter of God rests upon two profound facts:

 

·        One: Christ is “God the One and Only”- This special phrase does not mean that Christ was created by God (this has been addressed above), but that He has eternally existed as the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity.  Note:

 

Acts 13:33 that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, 'THOU ART MY SON; TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE.'

 

Heb 1:5 For to which of the angels did He ever say, "THOU ART MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE"? And again, "I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME"?

 

Heb 5:5 So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, "THOU ART MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE";

 

·        Two: Christ is “at the Father’s side”- That is, He enjoys the most personal and profound intimacy with the Father, and therefore, knows the Father as no other. This means, according to Carson, that the incarnate Word “was simultaneously God and with God” [134].  Through Him alone, the impenetrable barrier between sinful humanity and God has been bridged once and for all.

 

 

 

 

Major Questions for Reflection, Application, and Discussion

 

 

One: How are we to understand the nature of Christ?  Is He half-God, half-man?  Sometimes God, sometimes man?    What difference does it make anyway?

 

 

 

Two: Why did Christ have to become a man?

 

 

 

Three: Is it really necessary to assert that salvation is found only in Christianity?  What about the other religions that seek to find God through different avenues?